Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Illustrator:  R. Gregory Christie 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lerner, 2015   ISBN: 978-0761339434

Lewis’ dad owns and manages a bookstore in Harlem called the National Memorial African Bookstore. It is practically Lewis’ home because he and his father spend so much time there. The bookstore is a one of a kind place, and so all kinds of people come there, including famous people. Often actors and musicians who are performing at the Apollo Theatre just down the road drop in to browse and search the shelves.

Lewis’ dad opened the store before Lewis was born and he started out with “Five books and a mission.” Dad used to say that “he got the book itch and needed to scratch it,” and scratch it he did. Dad tried to get a loan from a bank to fund his new business, but the banker said no because he felt that it made no sense to have a bookstore for black people. After all, he said, “Black people don’t read.”

Dad did not let his lack of money stop him. He scrimped and saved and opened his bookstore. People came and read. Lots of people came to the store and now there are countless books on the shelves. Dad believes that “Knowledge is power” and so he does everything he can to get people to read, to educate themselves. Dad did not go to school much and a great deal of what he knows about the world, and people, he gleaned from books.

Over the years Dad’s store has become a meeting place, and sometimes people come there to speak, standing on a platform that Dad and Lewis built outside the store. Malcom X came to speak and when he was killed Dad and Lewis mourned the loss of a great man who meant so much to so many.

This remarkable book contains a story that anyone who loves words will appreciate. We get to meet Lewis Michaux Sr. through the eyes of his son, and we see how Lewis Sr. fought hard to get books into the hands of African-Americans and how he also encouraged his people to take pride in themselves and their history.

At the back of the book readers will find further information about Lewis Michaux Sr. and his remarkable bookstore.